Christus Victor

I quoted this Wikipedia excerpt yesterday in a comment on this blog:
"The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ's death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the atonement for a thousand years, until it was removed in the West by the eleventh-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm, and replaced with his "satisfaction" model."
I first learned about Christus Victor on Derek Flood's blog where he contrasts Christus Victor with Penal Substitution. Since then he has published a book. Here is the Amazon description of it:
Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God's demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called ''Good News''? It's questions like these that make so many people want to have nothing to do with Christianity. Healing the Gospel challenges the assumption that the Christian understanding of justice is rooted in a demand for violent punishment, and instead offers a radically different understanding of the gospel based on God's restorative justice.
I suggest that you take a look at Derek's comparison of these two views of what happened on the cross. You can read his thoughts here. You may not change your view but it will definitely give you something to think about.

made in our image

Today I am thinking about how we tend to make God in our own image. This photo shows how religious people sometimes portray an image of an angry God to the world.. even to children.

I must confess that I certainly have an image of God. Generally speaking my theology.. weird as it is.. has become one where I try to filter views, religious and otherwise, through the life and teachings of the Jesus we find in the gospels.. not always neat and tidy though it may be. And I guess the cornerstone (not sure that word is even accurate to describe it) of my thinking is encapsulated in the third chapter of John's gospel where Jesus says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Now I understand that the bible and the gospel is more than just these three sentences spoken by Jesus so many years ago. Yet I believe that they help to condense my thinking down to the idea that God loves us so we should in return love Him and love the ones that he loves. In a sense these sentences solidify for me the image of God in my mind as a loving Father who has created children in His image with the ability to simply return His love to Him and to others.

So I thought that I might takes a few minutes and briefly comment on the image of God that some people and a few religions embrace:
Angry God: I think that this is the deity that many people, like my friend Brian, were taught in their childhood. In some strange theistic dichotomy God is presented as one who loves you so much that you need to be afraid of him.. especially if you "sin". Hell, sin and the wrath of God are front and center when this image is presented.

Holy God: This image is a bit different than the previous one. God is still sometimes presented as angry but more of an "angry at sin" rather than "angry at you". The issue here is still the preoccupation with sin and judgment.

Exclusive God: This image is found in different forms in the religious world. Some theologies ascribe to the idea that God created some to be exclusively predestined to heaven and some to hell and torment. Some believe that if you are not one of us then your destiny is one filled with fire and brimstone. In these scenarios both God and His followers are exclusive entities.

Enabling God: This is the image that basically says that God is too nice to allow anyone to suffer.. of course this thinking always adds "after they die".. obviously most people are allowed to suffer before they die. This view presents God as a weak Father who in the end will do anything to ensure that His children do not suffer. The view of man in this scenario is one of the saddest. I have opined a bit on this previously in a post titled Divine Pets.

Absent God: This image is the closest thing to atheism or agnosticism that I can think of. It is the idea that God once created the world then took off into the vast regions of the universe and is no where to be found. Don't pray to this entity because He won't answer and is not interested in us.

The Man Upstairs: If ever there was a God made in our image it is this one. Basically this view says that God is one of us.. He thinks like us.. He judges like us.. His view of fairness is similar to mine.. or yours. This is the image that placates folks who rarely think about God and live lives devoid of anything spiritual.

Santa Clause God: This is the image embraced by many narcissistic leaning folks who believe that God exists to answer their prayers and to lavish them with good things. This thinking believes strongly in the promises of God when it is to their benefit to do so. I once wrote about this phenomenon with regard to healing here.
Well I think that I have covered enough to make someone mad at me. Of course these ideas are faulted.. like me they are not perfect.. these images are, in a sense, the images that I have about those images.

Prayer Answers: Yes, No, Wait?

Another blast from the past ... first posted in December 2009 ...

I had an interesting dialog on Facebook over the weekend about my post titled When Prayers Are Not Answered. I asked for thoughts on unanswered prayers.. here are a few of the responses:
  • I don't believe prayer is ever "unanswered." Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but God ALWAYS listens and answers - He just doesn't always give us the answer we want. If we don't get what we want, then we must trust that what He DOES give us will be used to for His glory and our good. Not easy to do, but it's what we are called to.
  • Here are my thought on that Bob, I went through a very difficult time not so long ago...I wanted it over with in a flash and I got down on my knees and begged. I had heard in sermons that there were people that had their prayers answered in a moment...and I asked I not as loved as they are? And after I fought my way through with Him by my side I found out that it was because I wouldn't have learned the lesson that I was supposed to learn. Many I have learned in the past four years. Thank you Lord for teaching me.
  • Absolutely agree with all of the above! I guess it's purely the word "unanswered" that I struggle with. I know that it's just a word, but I hate to leave that impression of God out there at all. That's all I'm saying. :-)
  • As always, I love your writing. I think for me, I've always looked at "unanswered prayer" as the answer. I don't know...I'm not sure think of it so much as an unanswered prayer. I think sometimes no answer is the answer. Maybe it's our own lack of not being able to see it as an answer. And sometimes it's a matter of timing. The answer comes not when we want it, but maybe when we need will need it the most. After all, He sees what's ahead.
  • Timing is what it is all about.... When the student is ready...the teacher will appear!!!
So.. in light of this.. when do we know that we have an answer? It seems that the Apostle Paul got an answer concerning his thorn in the flesh when God replied and gave him a "no" to his request to have the thorn removed. But so many folks (myself included) that I know struggle with hearing that "no" answer and hang on to these words of Jesus:
Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. -Matthew 7:7 (AMP)
This passage speaks to me of the persistence that we so need when we pray.. often we see this persistence on display in the scriptures.. certainly the seeking and knocking prayers are not just a one time events.

I do think that the Holy Spirit can speak to us and tell us "no" as He did with Paul.. but until He does isn't it a good idea to keep praying and understanding that the answer may be "wait"? And really.. isn't a "wait" answer just another way to describe an unanswered prayer? I would love to hear what you think.

Confessions of a Grieving Control Freak

My friend Les asked me to write something about my grieving journey for his blog ...

In March of 1990 my life fell apart.

Ellen, my wife of 19 years, had a heart attack and kidney failure.

In the following four years my whole life’s focus was caring for her.

Everything else I was doing, ministry-wise, was stopped.

I slowly died on the inside.

It was during this time that I began to be confronted by the control issues that surrounded me and lived deep within me.

As I continually prayed for my wife she got weaker and weaker.

And my frustration got stronger and stronger.

I had no control over what was happening.

My children began having problems in school.

They too were dealing with a deepening grief about their mom’s health.

All the while I was being forced to change – I hated it.

All of the things in life that I thought I had figured out were unraveling before my eyes.

Everything that was important to me was falling apart.

I was dying on the inside and in May of 1994 my dear wife of 23 years died.

The past years had taken a toll on our family. My 14 year old son, my 10 year old daughter and me.

We were all devastated at my wife’s death.

We all expected her to get well.

That is what we prayed for.

I believed in healing and miracles.

Standing by her side I even prayed for a resurrection when my wife breathed her last.

The aftermath of her death found my son and my daughter struggling with diverse issues and me dealing with a broken theology.

I increasingly became aware of how much I had been led by principles and precepts.

Subconsciously I had developed a complex internal system of rules and logic concerning life.

These ‘of course’ were all based in scripture and encompassed words like ‘authority’ and ‘submission’.

Unclear to me was the real issue – living by rules put me in control.

For years I lived the life of a ‘led by the Spirit’ Christian when in truth I was more like a rules following control freak.

Sadly, my legalistic approach to life and Christianity bred an arrogant attitude towards people who didn’t see the scriptures the same way I did.

When my wife was sick the arrogant attitude began to give way to glimpses of humility.

I was humbled when meals came into my home from friends at church for 10 weeks.

Coping with hospitalizations, doctor’s bills (from 40+ doctors), hemodialysis, and a boatload of medical problems brought me to a place of breaking.

I was losing control.

I didn’t want to let go of my legalistic ideas and practices but had no option.

I could no longer maintain and feed the on stuff that once brought my ego such satisfaction.

The years after my wife’s passing brought many changes in my life.

That major theme of losing control seemed to subtly resurface as my children began to outwardly grieve the loss of their mom.

‘Control’ is a major battlefield for one trapped in black and white thinking.

It is all about ‘control’.

That brings me to the end of 2002.

I had remarried and Ann, my new wife, was going through an intense health crisis that involved paralysis.

I was beside myself once again when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.

He spoke to me about life and living.

About letting go and flowing in life instead of controlling.

He said that life isn’t something to be managed like a project but something to be lived.

God was beginning to slay my desire to be in control.

Little did I know how much this would be tested over the coming years.

In the summer of 2007 my wife had another relapse of this nasty neurological disease called Neuromyelitis Optica.

This time she did not bounce back like the many times before.

This time she could not walk.

This time she would need to use a wheelchair to get around.

And she does to this day.

In January 2008 I read this quote from G. K. Chesterton:
“Why be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody?”
It got me crying.

And over the following months I became convinced that God was leading me to leave my job as a pastor.

That summer I retired to minister full time at home.

I still find it difficult to let go and not control but I am making progress.

I try to see issues in the color gray rather than in black and white.

I do things these days that have clear boundaries.

I listen more to the advice of friends and family.

I honor the choices of my adult children even when I don’t agree with them.

And in all things I remember that God loves me and wants me to trust Him.

Not that I always do.

After all, trust is an issue of letting go and giving up control. :)

performance orientation

With almost 5,000 views (as of September 2017) this post from March 2006 is one my most popular.

From the Elijah House School for Prayer Ministry Basic I training manual:
”Performance orientation is a term that refers neither to the work we do nor the things we accomplish, but to the false motives, which propel us to do what we do. Once we bring performance orientation to death, we can find worth or value in who we are, not just in what we do.”
I think that we can all relate to false motives ... things that drive us and compel us to do very religious things for all of the wrong reasons. I was once ... and sometimes am ... such a one. If you are interested in my journey read Confessions of a Charismatic Fundamentalist. Most of what I expound here I learned from my Elijah House training ... you can go to their website for more information.

Performance Orientation (PO) is something that is often learned very early in life. It shows up later in life with behaviors that are often identified with ‘people pleasing’, workaholism, compulsiveness, and self-righteousness ... to name a few. Early in life we are often given messages of conditional love and embrace a lifestyle of earning other’s love. A parent may confuse a child by combining the child's performance of good deeds with statements of affirmation and love ... and the child may not understand that the parent really loves them for who they are. This is problematic because the child grows up thinking that love is a reward for ‘being good’.

Many, when they come to Christ, come with PO. A person like this will often embrace the legalistic side of the scriptures and, like myself, live their faith out of a complex set of rules and principles. These live their faith lives not understanding that they are suppressing and covering over the good heart that they received at salvation. They live life from the head with ideas that their hearts cannot be trusted because they are deceitful. These folks will always gravitate to a black and white interpretation of the scripture because of the appeal to their head ... for the gray matters belong to the heart.

Healing for PO is a process of healing the heart. From the Elijah House manual:
”Healing will not come by our own efforts, nor by finding new and better ways to perform.
We must invite God to slay us, and let others minister to us.
Performance orientation requires relationship in order to be healed.”
If you identify with PO here are a few things to consider:
  • God loves you as you are ... you can’t do anything to make Him love you more.
  • Wounds of your past may need to be addressed ... you might need some help to address these wounds.
  • You may need to change the major influencers in your life ... people who continue to feed your PO are a part of the problem.
  • Build relationships with people who accept you and see the best in you ... we all need encouragers.
Last year in prayer I sensed the Lord speak to me ... He said “When you embrace your heart you will embrace Me”. It was a difficult message for someone who has lived most of his life out of his head and not his heart ... but it was a needed message. Believers, embrace your good heart today and stop trying to earn His love by being good ... it will be good for your heart.

The Struggle to Forgive

Continuing the reposting of my golden oldies. This one was published exactly three years ago today!

Recently got an email from the pastor of the church we attend (online) introducing his new series on forgiveness. Here are a few things that he shared along with my comments:
"There is no other world religion or philosophy that speaks so clearly to the issue of forgiveness than Christianity."
I so agree! Forgiveness is mentioned approximately 116 times in the scriptures - 64 times in the New Testament. Much of Jesus ministry and teaching involved forgiveness. I love how Peter came to Jesus wanting a limit on the amount of times he "had to" forgive and Jesus basically told him that there was no limit.
"It is impossible to overstate the importance of forgiveness in our lives and world."
I think that all wars and most conflicts have their roots in unforgiveness. Much of my pastoral counseling with couples dealt with unforgiveness. It is sometimes so difficult to address because wounds run so deep.
"When we refuse to seek forgiveness we destroy relationships and can find ourselves living with guilt or shame."
I think that the most powerful words on earth, when offered with sincerity of heart, are "I am sorry". The words themselves are not magic but can often introduce a needed reconciliation.
"On either side of this equation, the withholding of forgiveness can be toxic. When we refuse to forgive our hearts are slowly corroded by the poison of resentment and bitterness."
So often the request for forgiveness is denied, reconciliation is blocked and the unforgiving person finds themselves imprisoned and put in bondage to their own unforgiveness. There is almost a sick justification for harboring ill feelings and refusing to forgive.

On the flip side sometimes forgiveness does not result in reconciliation. Abusers for example can be forgiven but it may not be wise to continue a relationship with them. Sometimes people can do irreparable harm to relationships.

When we struggle forgiving we must realize that the struggle is a divinely personal one.. we need help to forgive.. in a sense we often need Jesus to forgive through us. Here as an excerpt from "The Hiding Place", Corrie Ten Boom's book that relates her experiences with the Nazi's in World War II:
"It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."
If you struggle forgiving today take a cue from Corrie and ask Jesus to give you His Heart of Forgiveness.

Never know - you may have a Corrie experience?

Thick Skin, Soft Heart

Another retro post from the blog archive. Since 2007 it has been read over 2,000 times. Enjoy ...

Ever think about those people who seem to have a thick skin? People who don't get easily offended. My friend Jim received some wisdom from the Holy Spirit on this. He told me that thick skin will keep wounds from penetrating our heart. I find that idea to be so fascinating. It reminds me of this verse in Proverbs 4:
"Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life."
Developing a tough thick skin is a way that we can guard our hearts from the wounds that cause it to develop a hard crust. I read that having a thick skin is being able to withstand criticism. Ouch, I don't like that because I don't like being criticised ... I much prefer the idea of being able to withstand wounds - sound a bit more noble. Keeping criticism out of our heart is so hard because many of us are such people pleasers.

Love seems to be one of the ways to keep our hearts soft. Peter puts it this way in the fourth chapter of his first epistle:
"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins."
Over the past year I have developed a phrase that has helped me keep my heart soft. When I am hurt by another I will often say to myself: "I will not be offended!" I think that it is my way of letting love cover another's hurtful words ... even if those words are not intended to hurt ... even if the criticism is not sin. As I have said this out loud I have felt something strengthen inside of me.

In Matthew 18 Jesus speaks to us of forgiving from our heart. Ever wonder why he said it that way? I like to think of forgiveness as God's heart softener. When wounds, criticisms and sins make it past our skin and pierce our heart forgiveness can make our heart soft again. Forgiveness guards our heart and keeps it from becoming hard. This is why it is so important to forgive.

To keep our heart soft is to keep it pure. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, said it this way:
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
The real issue of having a soft or pure heart is vision. A soft and pure heart will see God differently - clearer. The hard embittered heart is clouded at best and unable to see God clearly. You see, the heart is that place where we see God ... keeping it soft is the essence of knowing and seeing God in a wonderful way.

Doubt is Not Disbelief

Today's retro post is from an old Cal Thomas Newsweek column ...

There is a hymn many Christians sing which includes the plea that God would "drive the dark of doubt away." We live in a fallen world with many temptations and distractions. We witness poverty, war, death and other horrors. We "see through a glass darkly," as Paul writes. We are constantly bombarded with "evidence" that God does not exist.

And yet as we focus on Jesus, it is He who drives the dark of doubt his life, death and resurrection and by His assurance that He goes to prepare a place for us that where He is, we may be also. It is by looking beyond our circumstances in a fallen world and beyond doubt that we find hope and faith. Perhaps Mother Teresa's doubt lasted longer than most, but doubt is not the same as disbelief and in her actions as well as her words, she exhibited more faith than any doubter -- or non-doubter -- I have known.

Why God is not an Abusive Heavenly Father ...

About a month ago I came across a blog titled "Desperately Wanting to Believe Again". It is a compelling site that features the writings of Les, a one-time Mississippi pastor baptist pastor who suffered traumatic loss when his wife and son were murdered in October of 2011.

I have loved the way that my interactions with Les have caused me to think deeply about my own life traumas and how I have come to see God in my own pain. Mostly it has helped me to see how a certain view of God can lead some to subliminally see God as an Abusive Father.

Now I am not saying that Les, or others commenting on his blog, say those exact words. But reading there has helped me understand that there is a seemingly widespread subliminal theological view that God is complicit in the painful things that happen to human beings. Following are a few excerpts from my comments on Les' blog.

When I read: “What I want to believe and know again with all of my heart is God’s love toward and protection of me. That God has my bests interests at heart.”

I hear you say: “If God really really really loved me then bad things would not happen to me.”

Is that pretty accurate? I do think that most people struggle with God being a loving God because they embrace a theology that sees God as the inflictor or permitter of their pain.

Personal story: I remember times in 1994 shortly after my first wife died when I hurt so much. I did not understand why she died at age 43. Yet each time I prayed my heart returned to the cross and I began to understand (in a very small way) that God loved me more than I could understand.

Since that time the cross has made such a difference in my life. Each time I want to see Jesus as the inflictor or permitter of my pain I remember the cross where He suffered. And if we accept the idea that Jesus is God incarnate then we understand that God also suffered in this life.

I still struggle with deep pain and heartache but not with God. How can I struggle with One who really really really loves me and comforts me in times of my deepest pain and despair?

That said, I do understand how difficult it is to believe that God really really really loves us when we see Him as the inflictor or permitter of our pain.

Interesting how we rush to blame the creator when a person does something horrendous but we do not blame the creation. As humans I guess we want to cut slack to the parents and grandparents of people who do horrendous things when in truth these had more influence over the person who did horrible things to us than God.

Why not blame these people or society in general? Why blame the Creator instead of the creation? Of course it is nonsense to blame parents and grandparents as these do not have control over people who murder innocents in schools or movie theaters. In my view, it is also nonsense to blame God for allowing people to have free will.

And in a very real sense we refuse and inhibit the comfort of the Holy Spirit when we continue to blame Him for causing or allowing bad things to happen to us. On a psychological level, how can one accept comfort or love from One who they see as an abusive Heavenly Father?

It is a very practical issue for me. Not blaming God has helped me to keep my heart free from bitterness and open to His love and comfort.

1) The only way that one could say that God is involved in the permitting of evil or bad things is to blame Him because he gave humans free will that resulted in them doing bad things.

2) This showed up with the first family when Cain murdered Abel. God warned Cain that sin was trying to grab hold of him but God did not stop Cain. Generally speaking, He still allows those kind of bad things.

3) So God would have had to take away Cain’s ability to choose good over evil to save Abel. Sadly Cain chose evil when he could have chosen good.

4) So God, generally speaking, allows bad things to happen because he has ceded His sovereignty (in a small way) to human beings who can make good or bad choices.

5) If God removes our ability to choose then he not only prevents evil and bad things but He also removes our ability to love and do good things to each other.

6) Our choice is to freely love and not do bad things. Hence my assertion that our problem is not with the Creator but with the created.

I don't see Job, the book, as a commentary on God so much as a commentary on the predominant theology of the culture of that time. The folks of that era framed God as an entity that played the puppet-master with human beings. So I don't find mystery in the idea that primitive human beings saw God that way. I do find mystery in the idea that people who have read the gospels still embrace a puppet-master sort of God.

The best things that I have gotten from the book of Job is the idea that grief is a universal experience. Who cannot see Job struggling with denial as he originally speaks of God in cliches then curses the day he was born. Most of the book is all about bargaining, anger and eventually acceptance - Kubler-Ross' grief phases.

I so agree with you that the issues for folks who hurt deeply are really more about wrestling with God and learning to trust him again. Sadly so many see God as the abusive heavenly Father and may never trust Him again.

It is why a different view of God is required to be able to trust again. Sometimes long-held beliefs need to be explored and changed for healing to come.

Are any of you suffering hardships?

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. -James 5:13-16 NLT

I have prayed for a lot of people since I first came to Christ in 1976. For many years I weekly ministered as an elder praying for the sick - I have cried with many many hurting people. Even so, I have not had much success in praying for sick people. A small few have been healed as I prayed - I suspect less than one percent. Many would rationalize this lack of success to a lack of faith or some sort of hidden sin. I think that it would be very superficial to say that.

No one wants to be healed more than a person who is suffering. When I consider what James writes here I do not see a formula for healing miracles but one for spiritual community. When he tells a suffering one to go to the elders he is speaking of the healing power of a spiritual community. In telling us to confess our sins he proclaims the healing power of transparent relationships. Perhaps the prayer of faith mentioned here is all about prayers offered in community?

Bring us Lord to a community of faith where we can be real with each other - a place where inner healing can come.

To those who endure under suffering ...

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.
-James 5:10-11 NLT      

A few years ago my son and I were in the car and he said that he thought I was a modern day Job - I had to chuckle as I told him that Job had nothing on me. Of course we all have a story and mine is not all that different than many.. it is just different than folks who have not dealt with the death of a spouse.. or a parent who has not dealt with grieving children.. or a person who has not struggled with a disabling disease that has attacked their spouse.. we all struggle.

The difference between the suffering of Job and that of folks today is the way that the pain is seen. This week I had a street preacher yell a prayer at my wheelchaired wife as she drove by his mock pulpit. Somehow some folks feel such a superiority towards those who struggle. It is hard to bless such people and not feel embittered towards them. In such times we need to guard our hearts and focus on the One who James describes as "full of tenderness and mercy".

Help us Lord to remember, pray for and honor those who endure under suffering.

The coming of the Lord is near ...

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. -James 5:7-8 NLT

For thousands of years Christians have believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Years ago, as the last millennium drew to a close, many people expected his arrival in the skies. Personally, I took two semesters of Bible College classes on the book of Revelation - don't ask me about my old theories concerning the rapture and other end time events. These days I honestly do not think about the end of the world as we know it or the coming new earth.

When I ponder what the Lord's return means to me, I usually think of what it will be like when He comes in the clouds for me on the day when I pass from this world to the next. I once had a vision of that day when my feet left the earth and I passed through the clouds. I am not sure how accurate that image was but I know that it gave me so much hope - and the Blessed Hope is what many of us associate with the day that we will see God ... and how blessed that day will be.

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus to take us home to be with you. Come Holy Spirit to plant a seed of patience in us today.

A cancer in your gut ...

And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment. All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. -James 5:1-4 MSG

The apostle Paul warns us, in his first epistle to Timothy, that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. In this passage James seems to elaborate on that idea a bit. Interesting how the folks who paraphrased these verses describe our greed for luxury as a cancer in our gut. Greed causes us to do bad things. Greed separates coworkers. Greed causes us to buy things that we cannot afford. Greed enslaves us with debt. Small wonder James tells us to lament.

In the end the issue is not really money, wealth or even greed. The problem is the pride and arrogance that tells us that we do not have a responsibility to bless others with what God has blessed us with. The egocentric person does not see a need to share his wealth with anyone but himself. Pride takes us to strange places. In contrast humility acknowledges that we are simply managers and not owners - all that we have belongs to God. We must be wise with what He give us.

We repent of our greed Lord. Fill us and help us to love others with the things that you give us.

Your arrogant plans ...

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that town and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes. You ought to say instead, “If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast about your arrogant plans. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin. -James 4:13-17 NET

I think that many people suffer from vision of fame and grandeur. When I was a boy I dreamed of becoming president of the United States - I had a grand vision of my future. Rarely do these dreams come true because they are based in our head and not our heart. These dreams and plans are built around our ego and have little to do with God's plans. In my life I have found that His plans are more about who I am becoming in my heart rather that what I am doing with my hands.

The last sentence of this passage intrigues me. Is James connecting our egocentric dreams to sinning? Or does the verse stand alone? I think both. Certainly sin can be defined as doing something we know that we should not do or not doing something that we know we should do. Seems like making plans apart from God's known will could also be sinful. The key in these ideas is that sin is contradicting what we 'know' in our innermost being to be God's will in our life.

Lord, we lay our dreams, visions, expectations and plans at the foot of your throne and ask to be filled with your will.

Don’t speak evil against each other ...

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? -James 4:11-12 NLT

Isn't it interesting how we sometimes judge each other using a rule or law of some sort? When a person does something we do not like we label them and judge them to be one thing or another. From a certain perspective this kind of judging might seem righteous. That is until you realize that the law that Jesus speaks of is the one that commands us to love God and the people that he has created. When it comes to judging others the law of love trumps all others!

I find it interesting how James writes of speaking evil against each other in the context of judging. Years ago a friend told me that we should not judge but we should inspect spiritual fruit. Hard to believe how some justify their actions. I do think that it is difficult to judge actions as evil, as James does here, without judging a person's heart as evil. But that is what we are called to do. Only God knows a person's heart and only He is qualified to make any judgment about it.

Lord, help us to not judge each. Teach us to love the way that you love..

Humble yourselves before the Lord ...

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. -James 4:7-10

It is hard to read these words and not think about the word 'repentance'. When I think about that word my mind wanders to the times when my heart and my actions have strayed from God's path. I also remember how humbling it was to find my way back to the narrow road. It reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son and how he came to his senses after being away from home for so long. It took humility for him to admit that he was wrong and to come home.

Even so, it is impossible to tell the story of the Prodigal and not mention the Father. Jesus tells us that the Father saw his boy from far away and went running to him. It is the image I have of God when we turn away from our sinful actions, lifestyles and habits and turn towards Him. I think of the robe, the sandals and the ring that the Father clothed the Prodigal with when James speaks of God lifting us up in honor when we humble ourselves in repentance.

I am proud and independent Lord. I am more like the prodigal than I want to admit. Help to to return home.

Willful proud ... Willing humble.

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” -James 4:4-6 MSG

What comes to your mind when you read the words "the world"? It is a phrase that is often used in Paul's writings as well as here in James. I usually think of the flesh - things that are done apart from God and under our own power. It also reminds me of the war that often wages in my mind telling me not to let myself be "too religious". The phrase "fiercely jealous lover" reminds me that God wants all of me ... not just the religious part that shows up to church on Sunday.

In contrast to the religious life that seems to be able to coexist with a fleshly life, James tells us about living a spiritual life ... a life that has God at it's core. Now I am not implying at all that the spiritual life is one filled exclusively with doing all sorts of "spiritual" things. What I am saying is this sort of life flows from our innermost being and results in a humble life that is filled with love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, temperance, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.

Help us Lord to begin our days in ways that acknowledge you and cause our hearts to be filled with your presence.